The Brothers Pang make their English language debut with this supernatural thriller in sunflowers. It is an inauspicious start to the dawning Hollywood portion of their career, which has them remaking their creepy film The Eye next. The Messengers is successful in delivering their effective visual style, yet they are let down by a weak story and script from Todd Farmer and Mark Wheaton.
The Messengers is built and marketed on an interesting premise, although it never fully takes flight, unlike the large flock of crows that are an omen of things to come. The basis is that children can see and hear things that adults cannot, that they are more attuned to the supernatural world and all that it has to offer. In this case their are some ghostly residents with a bone to pick. The only ones who seem to see these apparitions are the two children, beginning with the youngest who does not speak and has no means of transferring his knowledge to those who need to know. It is an idea that could play out wonderfully in a stronger setting, kind of like The Sixth Sense if Haley Joel Osment was mute.
Sadly, the story told here does not take advantage of that setup. It is a story that borrows elements from many other films. In addition to The Sixth Sense, there are hordes of birds which seem to tease a remake of The Birds, the creepy long haired disjointed movements of the ghost in The Grudge, and the revenge of the dead from Poltergeist. None of it comes together, the end result is a mish mash of other influences, sort of like a demo reel of potential story seeds sewn together.
The story tells of the Solomon family who move to this abandoned sunflower farm in an effort to rehabilitate their troubled daughter, and revive the sunflower crops. As Roy (Dylan McDermott) and Denise (Penelope Ann Miller) work towards that end, the kids start acting weird. First, young Ben (Evan and Theodore Turner) appears to be seeing things, things which are soon revealed to the audience. Then, when he is unable to communicate this, the apparitions take a more active role as they start going after Jess (Kristen Stewart). Unfortunately, the troubled girl’s parents think she is making it up. That leads to a final escalation which could mean the end of the Solomon family.
Meanwhile, there is a mysterious stranger, played by John Corbett, who appears out of nowhere, is immediately befriended, and put to work in the sunflower field. Now anyone who has any experience with this type of movie will know that he will have a bigger impact later on, there is never a random visitor like this in this kind of movie. That is unless you count the bank man played by William B. Davis (Cancer man from The X-Files), he appears a couple of times, yet doesn’t amount to much of anything. I suspect that he has more scenes that were left on the editing room floor.
Anyway, creepiness ensues building up to the explosive climax. Sadly, it is a climax that doesn’t pay off. There are threads and scenes that do not make sense, there is an attempt at drawing it all together, but it is too little too late and left me with more questions than answers. The questions quickly became unimportant as I found that I really didn’t care all that much.
Now, the movie is not a complete loss. As much as the story would want you to believe, there is something worthwhile buried within. The Pang Brothers know how to build suspense visually. This movie has an interesting visual sense. The cameras move through the house purposefully limiting your view. As the kids peered into the darkness and around corners, I found myself straining to see beyond the edges of the screen to see what they saw. The reveals are effectively creepy and the jump scares don’t across as being too cheap. The house, and its location, are very helpful in creating this feeling of isolation, a sense of impending dread with no hope of escape.
It is an interesting dichotomy, weakness of story versus the strength of visual style. If only the two could have come together in a better melange. Kristen Stewart does a decent job of playing the increasingly distressed teen. She is almost strong enough to hold your interest in the narrative, until you realize that it really doesn’t gel, you are left with the visuals to hold your interest. Depending on your point of view, it may or may not be enough.
Bottomline. Frustrating movie, interesting premise that fails to deliver combined with nicely composed images. The idea had so much promise, yet fell apart in the execution. Still, I think the Pang Brothers show a promise, they are competent filmmakers who know how to build up the tension, I just hope they succeed better with the The Eye remake.